Thursday was, once again, Michael Phelps' day. The showdown with Ryan Lochte in the 200 IM never really materialized, with Phelps racing out to a comfortable lead early and Lochte battling back to take silver. While the times may seem somewhat close, it was never really a race. So let's examine it.
This seems important. Look at the splits and you'll see where the race was decided:
Phelps' splits: 24.63, 28.63, 33.33, 27.68
Lochte's splits: 24.79, 29.10, 33.48, 27.53
From first to last, the splits are for the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle legs. Phelps opened with a slight lead after the fly and just destroyed Lochte in the back. And remember, Lochte is, in theory, the better backstroker -- though both are solid in the 200m back.
With a lead of a little over six-tenths of a second, it was all over for Lochte. The difference between their breaststroke legs is typically negligible -- though Phelps padded his lead -- and the same goes for the freestyle leg. Phelps did his work at the beginning of the race, "winning" the first three legs, and just had to hang on over the final 50 meters.
It's important to note that Lochte and Phelps swam programs that were essentially the opposite on Thursday. Lochte had to go out and swim a final -- in the 200 back -- before the 200 IM while Phelps battled Lochte first before swimming in the 100 fly. Both had grueling days, but Phelps was certainly more fresh for the 200 IM.
And does it matter? Because about 40 minutes after hopping out of the pool as the gold medalist in the 200 IM, Phelps went out and just missed setting an Olympic record in the 100 fly. He's very, very good at swimming these grueling programs.
While Lochte is superb in his own right, there's another level Phelps sits on. It's probably not fair to Lochte, who would be the story under any other circumstances, but men's swimming is still Phelps' playground. And Thursday was just another example.